If I had to sum up 2011 for cloud computing in a single word, it would have to be awareness. 2011 was the year when businesses of all sizes and types learned about cloud computing and when the benefits and risks surrounding the cloud were widely discussed. Interest in the cloud has been strong throughout the year, and most people already know that the cloud exists. The next step after awareness in the evolutionary cycle of any technology is experimentation. This is the word that will define cloud computing for 2012.
While it is true that many companies have been experimenting and investing in cloud computing already, they represent a very small percentage of the overall IT market. There are still several holdouts taking the "wait-and-see" approach to check if all this talk of the cloud is only a fad. As surveys and research about the first movers of the cloud start to appear, however, positive results will attract the attention of these slow movers. Early experiments are also helping to build decision-making frameworks that will help everyone make the choice about what systems and platforms can reap the most benefits from being moved to the cloud. These frameworks, in turn, will create an incentive for more elaborate and widespread experimentation.
I believe several trends will arise from all this experimentation over the course of the next year. Some are simply continuing from previous year, and others are a consequence of the evolving market. I will briefly explore each one below.
As more systems move to the cloud, and as larger companies start experimenting with cloud computing, especially with the public cloud, major cloud providers will become very attractive targets for ill-intentioned users, such as data thieves (even more so than they are today). Security will therefore become a much bigger concern for both cloud users and providers. We can expect a larger number of virtual machine exploits and the appearance of attacks focused on trying to leverage security breaches from one user to access the underlying platform. We can also expect orchestrated movements from cloud providers to improve the security of their platforms, and more transparency regarding security breaches, since companies are slowly realizing that trying to hide these breaches is useless.
Another security-related issue that will come into prominence in 2012 is all the data and privacy protection legislation that has been slowly cropping up throughout the world. Some of this legislation has the potential to throw wrenches on the growth and adoption rates for the cloud. If countries take the route of demanding local storage of private information, cloud providers could be forced to open data centers all over the world, increasing their costs. This kind of legislation can also slow the plans of companies looking to make a move to the cloud, because there will be a lot of regulatory issues that have to be taken into consideration.
Reliability is another issue that will become more frequent over 2012, as both more companies move their applications to the cloud and as they start relying on more cloud services on their day-to-day operations. Reliability, or lack thereof, comes from two related characteristics of cloud services. The first one is complexity. As data centers grow and spread throughout the world, the infrastructure increases in complexity exponentially, and unexpected interactions between automated or semi-automated processes can result in spectacular failures. The second characteristic is architecture. There are still few well-established architectural and design patterns and best practices for cloud applications and services, which can result in reduced reliability.
The increase in experimentation, however, will lead to improvements in both these areas. There are already appearing some best practices and guiding principles for the development of cloud systems, and these will expand over the course of 2012. They will also be slowly incorporated into development environments, so that even newcomers can have easy access to them. Improvement in management and task automation tools can also be expected, and they will allow easier management of complex infrastructure setups, resulting in improved uptime for systems everywhere.
Interoperability was on the wish list of everyone for 2011, but it is still a wish in most senses. It is still not easy to move from one cloud provider to another, regardless of whether you are using cloud infrastructure, cloud platforms, or cloud services. While moving down the stack, from services to infrastructure, makes moving data around easier, it is far from a simple task. A full blown migration from one cloud provider to another can quickly become a nightmare.
As the competition in the cloud space heats up, however, improvements in interoperability are bound to show up. They won't come from the good-hearted nature of cloud vendors, but from the fact that, as competition increases, so do the incentives to facilitate the migration of users. The migration and interoperability space is also ripe for innovation, making it very attractive to new companies. I expect to see some interoperability tools to start showing up over the course of the next year.
The final trend for cloud computing in 2012 is consolidation. Even though the market is far from mature, we are already seeing the major players in IT, as well as several newcomers, position themselves for future clashes. The most natural move for traditional IT companies is to use their deep pockets to buy smaller companies with good offerings in the cloud space. The same goes for the more established cloud players, such as Rackspace, Amazon, and Salesforce.com. Acquisitions are the fastest way to improve their competitive positions and expand their product portfolios. There have already been several moves in this sense over the course of 2011, and they should only intensify in 2012.
Experimentation is key
Experimentation, as I stated in the beginning, is the key word for 2012, from which all other trends arise. Security and reliability issues increase in importance as more people experiment with cloud technologies. Experimentation also leads to a faster evolution of the market, and of the tools and standards that users will need to rely on. Finally, experimentation drives business and consumer interest, which leads to increased competition and market consolidation. My advice for the coming year is to experiment: if you are a newcomer to the cloud, experiment to see for yourself the benefits and concerns; if you are already a veteran, experiment in new ways - try new services, look at what other people are doing and repeat what works. Most of all, prepare for another very interesting year in the cloud computing space.
After working for a database company for 8 years, Thoran Rodrigues took the opportunity to open a cloud services company. For two years his company has been providing services for several of the largest e-commerce companies in Brazil, and over this time he had the opportunity to work on large scale projects ranging from data retrieval to high-availability critical services.